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Brand New Experience!

July 7, 2015

Imagine if FIFA decided to re-work qualification for the World Cup. Indulge me, and envision that tournament being divided into two levels: an international version of the Champions League and Europa League, if you like. Then, anticipate the joy if you were to learn that the second level tournament – for teams world ranked 9-18, was to be held in Scotland and Ireland, and there would be 20 tournament games and 8 warm up matches in Edinburgh and Stirling inside two weeks.

Currently, that would mean the chance to see teams such as Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Rumania, Czech Republic and Italy. And then add Scotland, as home nation, to that list. While you are salivating over that intensive football diet, take in the marketing news that only 6 of those games will be ticketed and the rest will be free entry.

It’s not difficult to imagine the media interest and fan discussion which would be generated by such an event – and yet, in cricketing T20 terms, that is exactly what will be happening in Scotland between the 6 and 18th of July, when Afghanistan, UAE, Netherlands, Scotland, Canada, Kenya, and Oman will be battling it out in Scotland, while Ireland, Nepal, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, USA and Jersey lock horns over in Dublin. The top 6 sides qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 in India next year, against the major Test playing nations.

It’s a timely tournament for Cricket Scotland – providing a surge of game action in a year when the excitement of the World Cup is receding and the regular action of the County One Day league is still being missed.

It’s also a great opportunity for sports fans in Scotland to take a look at cricket –perhaps for the first time.

Two of the most regular reasons given for a disinclination towards the game are: “I don’t understand it” and “It takes too long”. The T20 format dismisses those excuses easily.. It is basic cricket – “big bash” if you like, with something obviously happening all the time, and a match lasts only 3 hours – hardly more time than you would invest in attending a Saturday afternoon football match.

With settings such as New Williamfield at Stirling, and Grange, Myreside and Goldenacre in Edinburgh– where better to spend a few hours on a summer day watching international sport? Historic castles overlook three of the venues and the sight of Craig House on the hill above Myreside is hardly less dramatic – and for the vast majority of games there is no entry charge. There is also an opportunity to support a Scotland team in international sport at a level of which the football team can only dream.

I suppose, ultimately, if you are not already a cricket fan, whether or not you avail yourself of the opportunity, will depend on what kind of sports fan you are.

There are those for whom sport is almost exclusively about watching the elite at the highest level. Through the wonders of cable television, they can choose a non-stop diet across a range of sports in which they seldom view a team or performer outside of the world top six. They count themselves as connoisseurs and are more familiar with the footballers of Barcelona than Alloa, happier watching the All Blacks than Melrose, and more comfortable with Australia v India than Freuchie v Falkland.
Their chosen point of observation is more likely to be sofa than stand, though they may be inveigled out of the house if there is a tempting Hospitality package, or premium seats are available.

However, their confederates in the world of sports spectating take a wider view. Well able to appreciate the game at the highest level and as susceptible to the skills of superstars as anyone, for this type of supporter, the thrill of the game is completed by “being there”, close to the action, and with the constant possibility of spotting a nascent champion, an unexpected demonstration of talent, or merely to enjoy the thrill of live action a few feet away. Though they can fully appreciate the sublime skills of Messi, Linlithgow Rose v Newtongrange Star on a wet Tuesday evening may hold equal allure, they grew up admiring Shane Warne, but are often to be found watching the lusty hitting number 6 at Fauldhouse. Sport at all levels fascinates them – and each fixture offers promise in differing ways.

There is also the excitement of the unfamiliar.

Watching Afganistan, there is the knowledge of their amazing climb up the world ranking against a background of war and uncertainty; how will the athletes of Kenya adapt to the plush, sea level turf of the Grange, shouldn’t Jersey be playing French cricket, are the Dutch cricketers as technically proficient as their footballing counterparts, will a Canadian batsman drop his bat and head for point after a good shot, how many sweaters will the guys from the UAE and Oman feel the need to wear?

With wall to wall sport on subscription television these days, it sometimes feels like a growing number of viewers are watching a dwindling number of top teams and superstars on an ever more regular basis. The T20 Tournament is a chance to witness something new, which is urgent, important in international terms, and on our doorstep.

It would be nice to think that Scotland – and all these teams visiting our shores – can run out to a good support, a deserved level of interest and media coverage, and a tournament which will leave happy memories of skill, competition, comradeship, and accomplishment.

Three hours in the Scottish sun (!) may prove to be a good investment for sports fans with open minds, and the desire to see a Scottish team qualify for a world finals tournament.

Even as a fully paid up member of the Old Gits club, whose cricket of choice is four day county championship fare, I’ll be traversing Edinburgh this month, supporting our guys, and learning about our guests.

It’s what makes sport important.

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